Kansas City entrepreneurs share startup experience at alumni networking event

Posted on Oct 20, 2017 in Alumni News, Career/Life, and News

Kansas City Skyline from Kansas City entrepreneurs event
Kansas City-area alumni and current KU students gathered Oct. 18 at the WeWork shared-office space in downtown Kansas City for a networking event and panel discussion with three of the city’s top entrepreneurs.

The panelists included Chase McAnulty, assoc., founder and CEO of vintage T-shirt company Charlie Hustle; Paul Francis, a’80, founder and CEO of OYO Fitness; and Hillary Philgreen, g’97, chief operating officer of Hantover Inc. and ARY Brands Inc and founder and creator of StinkBOSS. The discussion was moderated by Tyler Enders, b’11, owner of Made in KC and partner in five other retail concepts in the Kansas City area.

Prioritizing industry connections

Heath Peterson, d’04, g’09, welcomed the crowd of 65 Jayhawks and thanked Jessica Nelson Palm, j’11, managing director of the Kansas City Area Development Council and president of the Association’s Greater Kansas City Alumni Network, for the network’s assistance in hosting events for local alumni.

“These sorts of panel discussions and industry connections are a big focus for the Alumni Association right now,” Peterson said, explaining that the Association plans to launch a new career initiative, the Jayhawk Career Network, in 2018. “Programs like this in major metro markets across the country are part of that plan.”

What worked and what didn’t

Throughout the evening, the panelists answered a series of questions from Enders, as well as from several participants in the crowd, about their processes for product development and marketing, including how they secured funding, who they enlisted for help, how their prototypes were built and, ultimately, what worked for them and what didn’t.

Philgreen, a mother of two teenage boys who inspired the creation of StinkBOSS, a machine designed to dry, sanitize and deodorize shoes and athletic gear, relied on her extensive business background and made connections with other industry professionals, which proved invaluable to launching her product. She reminded participants that Kansas City offers a wealth of resources and networking opportunities for up-and-coming entrepreneurs.

“You need help, there are people in this city that will help you,” she said. “You just need the concept and you just need to step forward and try.”

“Reverse engineer” what’s already been done

Francis and McAnulty used the popular crowdfunding platform Kickstarter to help fund their concepts, and they stressed the importance of having a captivating, informative video for product campaigns. Both entrepreneurs recruited local business-savvy professionals to help create their videos.

“You don’t have to do anything new,” said Francis, who patented SpiraFlex, the exercise technology that powered strength-training equipment for NASA, and also developed the Bowflex Revolution. He watched several other campaign videos before creating one for his latest product, the DoubleFlex portable gym. “You just have to reverse engineer what’s already been done, then just improve upon it.”

Keep trying

McAnulty, whose passion for vintage tees and textile design inspired him to launch Charlie Hustle in 2012, reminded participants that the most important lesson in starting a new business or launching a new product is to keep trying. His brand’s most popular tee and signature piece, the KC Heart design, wasn’t even on the initial roster of T-shirts when Charlie Hustle first launched.

“You learn from everything,” he said. “You learn from your mistakes, you learn from your little successes. Try to expand and grow on those. We failed on a lot of different products. Just keep going, do it.”

—Heather Biele

Watch our video below to hear from the panelists. Pictures from the event are available on our Flickr page and may be downloaded for personal use.

 

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